Sanjeev V Sardesai
Goans are known for their festivities and the gaiety that marks the celebrations of any faith. Bardez and its populace do not lag behind when it comes to the colourful and unique manner of celebrations.
The “Bodgini Jatra” or the Sri Bodgeshwar Shrine festival and the Milagres Fest are the flagship festivals of Bardez and always welcome a visitor to partake in their festivals. A visit to these places can etch a beautiful memory in the minds for the years to come!
Attending some of the festivals in Bardez Taluka can take you to heritage sites and along routes fringed by tall palms waving as you pass by the steepest slopes, the curviest roads or narrowest lanes.
Let us now drive ourselves to the quaint village of Verem, which prides on the Reis Magos Fort and the Church dedicated to the Three Magi. The impressive Reis Magos Fort, built around 1551-1553, by the Portuguese Viceroy Dom Afonso da Noronha, was later the bastion holding civil prisoners after liberation, and was used as a detention centre for the political prisoners prior to liberation. What was once the feared prison, has been now converted into a heritage museum managed by the Directorate of Archives (Goa) with pictorial displays of the freedom struggle and the freedom fighters donning the walls of the inner halls. This is a must see for young students, as well as the visitors to Goa.
To the South of Reis Magos Fort and opposite the Miramar Beach is the naturally forming sand barrier the ‘Aguada Sand Bar’. The formation of this sand bar at the start of the monsoon stops all shipping in the River Mandovi. We can make this out by the rows of parallel waves that form here. This Sand Bar can be viewed beautifully from the Reis Magos Fort. Besides one of the most romantic sunsets, the view from the fort extends to Fort Aguada, the Raj Bhavan just across the River Mandovi, Miramar Beach and partly of the Panaji City. A visitor can even pick a few souvenirs from the Fort office, at the base, below the fort. There is a small fee to enter this fort accessed by a steep walkway.
Next to this fort lies another marvel of architecture – The Reis Magos Church – the first church in Bardez Taluka, built by the Franciscan Order in 1555. There is a majestic and wide staircase that leads to this church. But you must not miss the carved granite slabs depicting lions at the lower end of the staircase, which are the remnants and possible reminders of the temple (pagode) on whose site the foundation of this Church was erected.
This Church has a cemetery towards its western side and holds the graves of some Portuguese Viceroys. There is a small fresh water spring at the base of the Church, and it is said that when Afonso da Albuquerque was stranded in River Mandovi due to the Aguada Sand Bar during his first incursion, he survived for almost two months in his ships by using the water from this spring.
The Church of the Three Kings celebrates its feast on January 6. The whole village is dressed up gaily with road buntings and a fair like atmosphere. A huge procession is held and the Three Kings (clergy dressed as Kings – crowns et al), come walking along and proceed to the Church for the feast mass. Similar festivals are held in the Church and Chapel at Chandor and in Cuelim in South Goa. If one is in Goa during the New Year celebration period, do not leave Goa without seeing this procession and feast.
After viewing the fort and the church of Reis Magos, we can proceed to see another fort – the ‘undefeated’ Fort Aguada in Sinquerim. It was the Dutch blockade of 1604 which prompted the Portuguese to construct this fort – whose work was completed in 1612 – on the hillock of Sinquerim overlooking the Arabian Sea and guarding the River Mandovi. 21 canons can still be seen on the lower wall.
From Verem we have to cross over the Nerul Bridge and pass through the Candolim village and a 5 Star Resort to reach here. This fort got its name because of its 2.37 million cubic gallons fresh water (Agua means water in Portuguese) holding tank, right within this fort precinct. This potable water was supplied to all the Portugal proceedings ships to be used for their 28-29 days sailing to Portugal from Goa.
One interesting fact about the collection of this water is that this huge capacity tank, having 16 pillars “does not have any fresh water springs inside”. The entire fresh water was collected from harvesting rainwater. The fort boasts of one of the oldest lighthouses in India, but is now unused due to the establishing of a new modern light house, nearby. This fort has a deep dry moat around it and a fortification towards the shores called the “Aguada Lower Fort”. Till recently, it served as the Central Jail before being shifted to Colvale.
On the hillock preceding the Fort Aguada lies a beautiful Church dedicated to St Lawrence – the patron saint of seafarers and is under the operational authority of the Capuchin Friars.
This Church constructed by the Count of Linhares in 1568 is host to a very unique feast celebrated annually on August 10, known as The Blessing of the Sand Bar. It is only after the blessing of the Aguada Sand Bar that the fishing community of Candolim and Sinquerim set out into the deep sea for fishing. Earlier, many canoes and boats came in the cove just below the church hillock to be blessed. However over time, this tradition has diminished.
One aspect of communal harmony is seen here. The Pergola or the gazebo that stands in front overlooking the Aguada Bay and Fort has a marble carved book, which reads in Portuguese ‘donated by Canta Ramanata Naique’ – a Hindu gentleman. The Parish Priest leads the procession on August 10, which winds all along the compound to reach this gazebo. It is from this high platform that he blesses the sea.
A similar feast also takes place at Agassaim in the Church of St Lawrence. Such traditions, instituted by our ancestors are all related to respecting nature – and the Goan’s love to follow these customs.
It would be of importance to note that the tomb of Late Ernst Truper, the second officer of MS Ehrenfels, the infamous German Ship that was sunk by British commandos in Mormugao Port, lies just across the road from this Church. He died on January 22, 1945 at Nova Goa (Panaji) and was buried here.